George H.W. Bush led an extraordinary, well-lived life during an exciting time in American history. In any discussion of his life and accomplishments, his late wife Barbara quickly comes to mind as well. Theirs is a well-documented and iconic love story.
From the battlefields of the Second World War to the White House and beyond, the romance and connection between George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara was experienced by everyone who saw them together. Forbes looked at Bush 41 and his wife in the article, "Valuable Estate Lessons from the Passing of George and Barbara Bush."
That George’s death came less than eight months after Barbara’s may not be a big surprise. The death of a longtime married couple in quick succession is often called “broken-heart syndrome” or “widowhood effect.” The thought is that the lives of two people are so entwined they can’t bear to be without each other. The time between the Bushes’ deaths also raises practical questions in estate planning. Timing is critical in an estate plan, and if the deaths of married spouses happen within a short period of time, it can make the administration of an estate more difficult.
Although the passing of long-time married spouses in close succession is not uncommon, the way in which the estate will be handled is based on the time between the two deaths and the details of their estate plan. In many instances, trusts or wills have survivorship provisions that require a spouse to survive for a specified period of time. If a spouse dies within a certain period—such as two weeks—they may be designated as having predeceased the other spouse, and that may have implications under the document. Therefore, rather than having to probate the two estates successively, the estate administration is made into a simpler process.
The senior Bushes, however, wouldn’t have been aided by such a provision, because nearly eight months had passed. However, solid strong estate planning can help in a long-term marriage of older spouses to have the estate flow a certain way.
One thing President Bush might have used is a qualified disclaimer. With this, a beneficiary makes an irrevocable election to refuse to receive an interest in the property. This can be an effective tool when a surviving spouse doesn’t need those assets.
When spouses die within a short period of time of each other, there may be difficulties with beneficiary designations. Most spouses leave their retirement plans to the surviving spouse and their children as contingent beneficiaries. However, when death occurs in quick succession, the second spouse to die may not have yet rolled the first’s retirement account into their own account with beneficiaries. That can cause issues. This can mean having no beneficiary, and the retirement account winds up going to the estate of the first spouse. When this occurs, there’s probate and no chance to stretch out retirement distributions.
In situations like the Bushes, where the surviving spouse doesn’t need the funds, it might be smart for the couple to rework their beneficiary planning to pass over the spouse and distribute immediately to the children in an inherited IRA.
Reference: Forbes (December 3, 2018) "Valuable Estate Lessons from the Passing of George and Barbara Bush"
Spouses dying within a short time of each other may be sweet, but it’s crucial their estate documents are ready for this. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about how to plan effectively. Give us a call at (978) 342-1914 or visit us at www.dellamonaca.com.